Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ways to Make Your Writing Stronger


Over the next several weeks, I'll be posting articles on ways to strengthen your writing. Here's a quick list of some of the things that will be covered.

  1. Use dialogue attributes sparingly.
    *  When you do use them, use “said” and “asked” rather than things like “screamed,” “whispered,” “growled,” etc. Show how things are said (though context and dialogue) rather than telling how they are said.
    Use action beats to denote who spoke as well as to move the scene along.
  2. Choose strong verbs over adverbs. For example, say “He crept into the room” rather than “He walked quietly into the room.”
  3. Avoid cliches like the plague.
  4. Don't use “was verb-ing” combinations (called past progressive or past continuous tense) unless you are talking about an action that was on-going in the past. “He was reading the note she left when the shot rang out.”
  5. There's a time and place to use the passive voice, but most of the time it shouldn't be used. (Did you catch the passive voice in that sentence?) Active voice is when the subject in the sentence does the action: “He walked down the hall.” Passive voice is when the action is done to the subject: “He was led down the hall.”
    * The word “was” does not automatically make something passive. To say “I was there,” is not passive since the subject, “I,” is the one who did the action.
    *“Passive verbs” are not the same thing as “passive voice.” For example, “I saw him sitting” is not passive voice, although there isn't a lot of action going on. The subject “I” did the action (of seeing him), so this is active voice.
  6. Be conscious of your pacing. Alternate tense, action-packed scenes with slower scenes. If it's all non-stop action your reader may need to put the book down to get a break. If it's all slow, your reader may put the book down and never pick it back up again.
  7. Vary your sentence and paragraph length. Vary your chapter length. This can help you with pacing.
  8. Weasel words” just weaken your prose so much that they should all be avoided. It seems like they help, but they really don't. You should create a list of weasel words so that you can search for them in your writing and weed out as many as you can. (Start with all the italicized words in this item number.)
  9. Use contractions so your writing does not sound like it is stiff and stuffy. People do not usually speak without using contractions. If your characters do not use contractions your dialogue will sound stilted and will not appeal to your reader.
  10. Read your writing out loud to catch phrases or things that don't sound right. Better yet, have a friend read it out loud to you. Pay attention to any wording they trip over.


  1. It's great to see all these tips put together, Donna! Thank you.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Carla. It's nice to know folks are readng my blog. I plan to post all my writing related articles on Wednesdays.

  3. These are some really helpful tips, thank you!

  4. Thanks for leaving a comment, Sarah. I plan to go into detail on these tips in the next few weeks starting with dialogue. I'll give examples of things that work and things that don't. And I'll explain how to use action beats rather than dialogue attributes.